Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Myth Management

Righting some wrong impressions

By Walter Jowers

JULY 27, 1998:  Ten years ago, wife Brenda had a middle-management job, and she didn't like it. Every day, she'd complain that no matter how many meetings she called, no matter how many times she explained things, no matter how many memos she wrote, folks kept making the same mistakes over and over again.

"Yep," I said. "Moses had the same problem. You can't just lay down the law once and let it go at that." Faced with the hellish prospect of repeating the same admonitions every day for the next 40 years, Brenda quit the management gig.

Now I spend my days correcting the innocent opinions of homeowners who've been brainwashed by advertisers or by goofy home-improvement folklore. It's like a game of Whack-a-Mole. I know that as soon as I bash a myth over here, another one will spring up over there. But I don't mind. I think of it as job security. Allow me to bash a few right now.

Myth: There won't be any big problems with a new house.

Bash: I once saw a brand-new house where a quarter of the electrical outlets were wired through a light switch in the closet. If the closet light was on, the outlets were live. If the closet light was off, the outlets were dead.

One fateful day at another house, co-inspector Rick opened the drain in an upstairs whirlpool tub, causing a clogged downstairs commode to erupt with sewage, like a geyser in the lowest level of hell.

New-house buyers, listen to me: NASA blew up a space shuttle. Your builder will probably miss a few things.

Myth: Old houses are built better than new houses.

Bash: Not necessarily. A lot of pre-World War II houses in Nashville have 2-by-4 rafters, spaced 2 feet apart. The same house, built today, would have 2-by-6 or 2-by-8 rafters, spaced 16 inches apart. If the masons and carpenters are skilled and careful, and build to the blueprints, your average new house will be stronger than your average old house.

Myth: Roof shingles that are guaranteed for 30 years will last 10 years longer than shingles that are guaranteed for 15 or 20 years.

Bash: Most likely, they'll all be toast in 15 to 20 years. Try cashing in the pro-rated warranty on your 30-year roof in 20 years, and see where that gets you. Even if the shingle manufacturer is still in business, and even if the manufacturer agrees that your shingles failed early, the payoff will be next to nothing. Pizza money.

Myth: A deck, driveway, or brick patio will last longer if you "seal" it once a year.

Bash: You're feeling the pointy end of somebody's marketing stick. Anything left out in the weather will wear out. Rain, wind, and sun took the nose off the Sphinx, and they wore the once craggy Great Smoky Mountains down to nubs. Nature scoffs at our puny sealants. They're the Carter's Little Liver Pills of home improvement--they won't hurt anything, but they won't do any real good either.

Myth: When you need to have work done on your house, get three contractors to bid on the work and hire the lowest bidder.

Bash: Forget bidding. Here's what you do: Find a contractor with good references who you won't mind having at your house every day. Then agree on a fair price.

For cryin' out loud, home-improvement contractors aren't pulling down huge profits and stashing the dough in offshore accounts. If one contractor bids 30 percent lower than the rest, that doesn't mean he's the one guy who's not cheating you. It means he's cutting corners somewhere, maybe everywhere.

Just about every remodeling nightmare starts with a low-bid contractor, who doesn't have enough money to buy materials or pay his help. This often results in delays, arguments, and even jobs that are abandoned when they're half-finished. I say never hire the cheap guy.

Myth: You'll save a lot of money if you work on the house yourself.

Bash: To do a job right, you need tools and a lot of know-how. Tools cost money, and know-how costs time. If you want to take on home improvement as a hobby, fine. But don't think you're going to improve your net worth working on your own house. More likely, you'll be spending money like a deer hunter--buying $1,000 worth of gear to bring home $20 worth of meat.

Visit Walter's Web site at http://www.nash-scene.com/~housesense. Or e-mail him at walter.jowers@nashville.com.

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